Independent Reading Time
The first step to promoting literacy in the classroom is to offer your students the chance to actually read. No matter how tight your class schedule is, carve out at least ten minutes for independent reading time (IRT) a few days a week. Independent reading is one of the best ways to encourage students to read, while giving them accountability and a gentle push towards reading for pleasure.
IRT is easy to set up in your classroom, even if you don't have a huge classroom library already. Choose a small block of class time, make an anchor chart that explains why and how to read during this time, and make the students read. Let them choose their own book to read, whether it's a selection from home, the library, or one that you have provided and recommend. You can visit the school library as a class, and the librarian will happily help each student select a book that fits their personal reading style and interests. Spend some time teaching students how to choose books that suit them well and are on their reading level.
Setting the Ground Rules
Once everyone has a book to read, just start reading! Read for the entire ten minutes, or however long you choose, and do nothing else during that time. On your anchor chart that explains how and why your class reads during IRT, list your class rules. You might list the following to help students understand the importance and seriousness of IRT:
- No talking at all, not even to the teacher.
- Eyes on your own book.
- Read during the entire IRT time.
- Read! A real reader will have their eyes on their book, their eyes will be moving across the page, and they will be turning pages as they read.
Remember, it is important to teach students both how to read for fun, and what real reading looks like. You should be reading during this time as well, at least for the first few weeks. The students need to see that reading is important to you, and that you genuinely enjoy reading.
Ways to Make Reading Fun
To make IRT a fun and engaging experience for your class, you might need to add in a few tricks. One way to encourage reading is to create a class contest, with a prize for the top reader and for the entire class. Reward your class when everyone has read a specific number of books, or when everyone has tried a book in a certain genre. You can also create lists for the students to fill out that require them to read many different genres. Take a look at this sample handout that can help your students read a lot of books while exploring several different genres:
Sample Reading Challenge Log
As you can see, they range from simple fiction to memoir to dystopian fiction. As English teachers, we are very fortunate that we have websites such as Youtube at our disposal. Book trailers have become very popular in classrooms across the country, and they are an excellent way to make books exciting and fun for your students. Book trailers are just like movie trailers; they highlight the best parts of a book, while providing just enough information to make readers really want to get their hands on that book! There are new book trailers made every day, and students really respond well to seeing the book played out in front them.
Once your students are used to book trailers, they may want to try making their own. Because a book trailer is essentially an advertisement for a book, they are easy to create. Students can use a movie-maker program such as iMovie or Andromedia to create their own trailers, or they can simply present their trailers in real life to the class. Either way, make sure you have specific ground rules in place for the assignment, as well as a very specific rubric. Take a look at the rubric below, which details the requirements for a book talk, which is essentially a live book trailer or a commercial for the book that the student has been reading:
Sample book talk rubric
Assessing the IRT
Finally, once you have an active independent reading time in place in your classroom, and you have the students excited about reading, you should assess your IRT to see if it's effective. Assessment and reflection are an important part of any classroom program or lesson, and reading is no exception.
One way to assess the reading levels and comprehension skills that your class is developing through IRT is to have independent reading conferences with your students. After you have been reading in class for a few weeks, begin to quietly call students one at a time to your desk to talk about their book. Have a review sheet ready with general questions that can be asked about any book, and take notes. Have your students explain the plot, theme, characterization, or anything else that you have recently taught in class. If the student is truly reading during IRT, and they truly enjoy what they are reading, then this step will be very easy for them. Keep the conferences short, fewer than five minutes for each student, and keep the conversation light yet purposeful.
Asking questions about your student's reading will help you assess how much information they are retaining as they read and how well they read at that book's reading level. It will also show that you are interested in what they read. You can later use this information to help them choose another book to read, or to suggest new books and genres for the student to try out.
Reading is one of the most important aspects of an English classroom because it not only allows students to enjoy the class, but it also helps students perform better in school overall. To promote literacy, you may need to be a little creative. Encourage your students to read by creating an Independent Reading Time (IRT), allowing a few minutes for your students to choose books that interest them and enjoy the reading experience. Don't forget to be an example to the students at this time: take out a favorite book and enjoy IRT as the students also read.
Follow up and continue to encourage student reading by holding book talks where students will describe and 'sell' their books to the class, and watching book trailers in class that present a visual for new and exciting books. Remember that book trailers highlight the best parts of a book, while providing just enough information to make readers really want to get their hands on that book.
Finally, make sure you are conducting reading conferences to determine what your students are learning as they read. Short conferences about the books that the students choose are essential, as they allow you to assess and reflect on what the student is gaining from IRT. No matter how you choose to engage your students in reading, provide them ample opportunity to read and assess their progress regularly. Assessment and reflection are the two most important aspects of any lesson, and they simply can't be overlooked.